|Wednesday, October 2
Updated: October 3, 11:02 AM ET
Sports brands playing to a new crowd
By Darren Rovell
As Mike Phillips strolled down pit row to take his place for the national anthem, he got stares from the drivers and pit crews. Sure, the saxophone he was clutching might have looked out of place at NASCAR stops such as Richmond International Raceway. But even in a sport that has embraced corporate America more than any other, Phillips was conspicuous for another reason.
Indeed, Phillips would have looked more in his element at a basketball game than at a NASCAR track. Dressed from head to toe in Nike's Jordan brand, Phillips was flashing the Jumpman logo in what amounted to virgin territory for the leading shoe and apparel maker. Amazingly, while NASCAR races have quickly become a patchwork of corporate logos and drivers spit out the names of their myriad sponsors as fast as a sprint to the checkered flag, one of the world's most recognizable sports logos somehow had never made a memorable impact on those who race the ovals.
That was until an up-and-coming saxophonist played a jazzy rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" in Nike's Jordan brand gear. Even his sax sported a Jumpman logo.
As the lines between sports and entertainment have blurred, traditional sports apparel makers such as Nike and Reebok have used singers and musicians to further connect with their coveted 13- to 25-year-old target audience. Phillips is aligned with Nike, which he says has provided him with hundreds of pairs of shoes and countless outfits that he wears during concerts. Reebok has chosen more high-profile music stars, pairing Jadakiss, Scarface, Fabolous and Shakira in feature ads with athletes such as Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson and Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis.
Reebok has the most extensively integrated marketing campaign of all the traditional shoe brands, not only pairing athletes with recording artists, but also through its most recent program called "Unsigned Hype," in which the company teamed up with Source Magazine and asked people to compose and perform a hip-hop song inspired by a Reebok brand. In August, a group of judges reviewed 300,000 entries and picked a winner, who won a one-year, $10,000 "endorsement contract" from the shoe company.
"More kids go into a music store than a footwear store," said Denise Kaigler, Reebok's vice president of communications. "So this is one of the things we have done to react to the research that shows how much music matters to our core, urban demographic." Another tactic Reebok has recently employed is to partner with music stores, which agree to preview new shoe lines in display cases the company provides.
Even '70s sports apparel frontrunners Pony and Puma have gotten into the game to help resurrect their names. Metal band Korn, which previously sported adidas and even had a song called "A.D.I.D.A.S.," switched to Puma more than three years ago when Puma offered to give the band free clothes and feature them in its Super Bowl commercial. Now, Korn as well as Limp Bizkit, sport Pony gear on stage.
While Nike doesn't aggressively market Phillips since it signed him a year and a half ago, a song composed and played by Phillips, "The Greatest That Ever Played The Game," was included in the purchase of the $200 Jordan XVII's, which had the subtle sketches of musical notes on the side of the shoe. Phillips' album, "You've Reached Mike Phillips," debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart in May. He is signed to a recording contract with Hidden Beach Records, which is partly owned by his "Airness."
"The typical buyer of our shoes looks at musicians and entertainers much in the same way as they look at athletes," said Larry Miller, president of the Jordan division of Nike, which is endorsed by New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and light heavyweight boxing champion Roy Jones Jr., among others. "They pay attention to what they wear, eat and drink."
"Tommy Hilfiger was nothing until 1994, when Snoop put on a Tommy hockey jersey on Saturday Night Live," Tanner said. Thanks in part to wooing some of Hollywood's biggest stars such as Samuel L. Jackson and a partnership with casting company Robi Reed & Associates for product placement, Tanner has seen his company grow in five years ago to become a $250,000 business on the brink of really making it big.
Tanner's company has been especially aggressive over the past year in placing his logo of an African-American with dreadlocks swinging a golf club in movies as well as pursuing placement in golf video games. He also focuses on getting gear on the likes of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and former NBA star Charles Barkley.
"The bottom line is the more people see athletes and entertainers wearing the brand, the more they'll believe in it," said Memphis Grizzlies guard Brevin Knight, who receives a small equity in the company for introducing Urban Golf Gear to his teammates and other players in the league.
Tanner could be competing with the industry's behemoths in the competitive landscape of product placement and TV shows. Nike's Jordan brand was featured in the 2000 movie "Love and Basketball" as well as 1998's "He Got Game," featuring Milwaukee Bucks guard Ray Allen. Reebok sponsored the first four series of "Survivor," with competitors wearing bandannas with the familiar Reebok vector logo on them.
When Phillips sat down to sign his long-term endorsement deal, he said he didn't know what to do. "I thought I've seen it all, from the publishing deals to the touring contracts," Phillips said. "But when they slid it in front of me, I was like, 'Wow, this is something different.' "
Wrecking companies are doing quite well by leveling aging arenas and stadiums these days, but they also are cashing in by selling off the relics to rabid fans.
O'Rourke Wrecking, which won the $6 million contract to destruct Cincinnati's Cinergy Field and its related structures, is selling "everything that the Reds didn't take," said Jackie Schurger, vice president of the company.
Seats cost $35 each, but fans have to buy a set of four. Of course, they aren't useable without also purchasing brackets that will keep the seats upright. Cost: another $125 for the four-seat set.
Schurger said requests are coming in for certain items, including turnstiles and men's-room urinals. The company is also selling souvenir jars of dirt scraped from the infield and pieces of artificial turf that were taken from Cinergy two years ago when the team switched to natural grass.
"They work out real well for doormats," said Shurger, whose company charges $30 for the rectangle piece.
Play for no pay
On Aug. 21, the players protested by refusing to play the final two weeks of the season. But, according to sources, the CEO of the Chico Heat, the team the Bullfrogs were to play during a late regular-season series, paid thousands of dollars in team expenses in order to allow the series to go on. When the season ended, the players were handed checks, but partly because of what minority partner Jim Ryan calls "a number of arithmetic errors by the staff in the budget," the account was stopped in Yuma and the players' checks were returned due to insufficient funds.
"This is a slam-dunk case," said attorney Joseph Didio, who is representing the Yuma Bullfrogs staff and others, including vendors and fans who have been shorted by what Didio claims to be $250,000. "This is clear fraud. Bankruptcy or Uncle Sam can't save them."
Tim Howard, the Bullfrogs' All-Star outfielder who requested that his child support payments be withheld from his paycheck, is now facing a legal battle of his own. The money was withdrawn from the checks, but never delivered to his ex-wife, and he is being charged with contempt of court in California with a hearing next week.
Ryan attributed the mix-up to an accounting error. "The general manager was instructed to do that, but I think he was confused exactly what he was supposed to do" with the funds, Ryan said.
Other wronged parties, Didio said, include season-ticket holders who were supposed to be reimbursed for the value of their ticket costs for housing players but never were, as well as local companies that were promised ads in the team's game programs that were never produced. "I believe there were difficulties at the printer," Ryan said. "There's no question that has to be repaid as well."
Ryan said the checks, which he believes total $52,000, should be in the mail within two weeks.
Ken Lee, an eBay executive who lives in California, paid $93,000 for a baseball signed by members of the 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" team. Two years ago, Lee bought the ball that includes signatures of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and the seven others found to have gambled on the World Series.
"I had it in my house in a case with a humidifier," Lee says of the ball, which is shellacked and marked "Oct. 9, 1919," the date of the last game of the World Series that season. "But now I have it in a safety deposit box and I take it out about twice a month."
The ball, which Lee said was originally owned by the founders of the Elias Sports Bureau, will not hit the market anytime soon. "I'm a collector, not a dealer, so I probably won't sell it," Lee said. "But if I do, I'll sell it in for the 100th anniversary (in 17 years)."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org